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Lebanon - History

Lebanon was created in its present boundaries in 1920 under the French mandate. It became independent in 1943. Inter-community rivalries have been endemic, but until the 1970s were generally kept within bounds by a complex confessional system, enshrined in the 1943 National Pact. Under this system the President is a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, the Speaker of Parliament is Shia Muslim. These divisions are reflected throughout the Cabinet and civil service.

In 1970, large numbers of PLO fighters expelled from Jordan sought refuge in Lebanon leading to further destabilisation. In 1975/1976 there was a civil war which pitted a coalition of Christian groups against the joint forces of the PLO, left-wing Druze and Muslim militias. It ended in Syrian intervention, at the Lebanese government's request, initially to prevent a Christian defeat. The presence of the Syrian forces was subsequently authorised by an Arab League mandate as the 'Arab Deterrent Force'. But despite its presence, intermittent fighting continued, and between 1975 and 1982 an estimated 10% of the Lebanese population was killed or wounded.

In 1982, the PLO presence in Lebanon led to an Israeli invasion. On March 13th, the Israeli forces invaded the southern part of the country, reaching the Litani river. The United Nations Security Council issued resolution 425 which called for the unconditional withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces to the internationally recognized borders. The UN deployed 4000 troops in the South of Lebanon to ensure the total withdrawal of the Israeli troops and to help the Lebanese Government establish its sovereignty. Lebanon dispatched 700 troops to the South to take positions with UN troops in order to start implementing Resolution 425.

A multinational Force of US, French and Italian contingents was deployed in Beirut after the Israeli siege of the city, to supervise the evacuation of the PLO. It returned in September 1982 after the assassination of Bashir Gemayel and the subsequent massacres by the pro-Israeli Christian Phalange militia in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatila. A British contingent (of approximately 100) joined the multinational Force in February 1983. Following deterioration in the security situation, the multinational Force was withdrawn in the spring of 1984.

In May 1984 a Syrian-supported Government of National Unity was formed. Negotiations at Syrian insistence between the three main militia/political groups (AMAL, PSP and the Christian Lebanese Forces) on political reforms in Lebanon led to the Tripartite Accord of 1985. It involved progress towards the total deconfessionalisation of the political system within a decade and consolidation of privileged Syrian/Lebanese relations. Tension within the Christian community over the Accord led to the Lebanese Forces coup of January 1986 in which the pro-Accord leaders of the LF were displaced.

Heavy fighting in February 1987 in West Beirut between AMAL and a coalition of left-wing forces headed by the Druze militia led to renewed Syrian military intervention. Other clashes were mainly between AMAL and the Palestinians. In September 1988 Lebanon slipped further into crisis when the Parliament failed to elect a successor to President Gemayel as a result of differences between the Christians and the Muslims and Syrians. Gemayel's final act was to appoint the Maronite commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Aoun, as Prime Minister. The legitimacy of this government was disputed by the acting Prime Minister of the previous administration, Selim Hoss (a Sunni). This led to virtual partition along sectarian lines. Hoss's government was based in West Beirut, while Aoun occupied the Presidential Palace at Baabda in the East. The rivalry erupted into fighting in March 1989 following Aoun's blockade of the Muslim ports in South Beirut. There was heavy shelling of the Christian enclave by Syrian forces, returned by Aoun's troops. During the fighting more than 800 were killed.

In September 1989, the Lebanese Parliament was convened in Taif, Saudi Arabia, which agreed a Charter for National Reconciliation, known as the Taif Accord. This included an outline timetable for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, initially from Beirut, and a formula for the deconfessionalisation of the Lebanese political system. A meeting of Lebanese Deputies in Kleat, Northern Lebanon, on 5 November 1989 ratified the Taif Accord and elected Rene Moawad, a Maronite Christian, as President.

Aoun declared the elections illegal, and announced that he would be holding elections himself in 1990. Moawad was however assassinated on 22 November 1989 and his successor, Elias Hrawi, immediately removed Aoun from his command of the Lebanese Armed Forces, surrounding the Christian enclave with Syrian troops. The anticipated Syrian attack on the enclave did not materialise as, from January - May 1990, East Beirut was locked in an internecine struggle between Christian forces. This caused extensive damage and loss of life. Aoun was forced out of the Christian enclosure by a Syrian air attack in October 1990. Aoun took refuge in the French Embassy from which he went into exile in France.

After sixteen years of civil war, peace returned to Lebanon at the end of 1990. There has been no significant fighting in the country (excepting the troubles in South Lebanon) for some years and the main political groupings accept the Taif Accord as the basis of a post-war settlement.

Following the Taif Accord, south Lebanon remained the one area of active fighting. Israel continued to occupy part of south Lebanon with Israeli Defence Force soldiers and a Lebanese proxy-army, the South Lebanon Army. During the period of occupation, Hizballah emerged as the main Shia militia opposing the Israeli occupation and the Lebanese government continued to accept their control of south Lebanon after the Israeli withdrawal. UN Security Council Resolution 425 in 1978 called for Israel's unconditional withdrawal from Lebanese territory and established the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. The interim force was deployed in Lebanon outside the security zone but could not intervene in the fighting. The Israelis withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000. The United Nations established a 'Blue Line' on the ground. The Blue Line is the best possible assessment of the international border (based on the 1923 border agreed between Britain and France).

The Lebanese Armed Forces were not the only military force in Lebanon, which at the height of the civil war was the battleground for 40 different armies. Syria maintained approximately 20,000 troops in the country, a visible reminder of the power they had with the government. The Syrians originally had upwards of 30,000 troops in Lebanon but lowered its troop numbers after Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000. Hizballah also had their own militia force of approximately 3,000 mostly located near the southern border in the Bekaa valley.

The autonomy of Lebanese Armed Forces' officials was limited due to widespread Syrian influence with government officials. Syria played a key role in Lebanese affairs and makes sure that high-ranking government officials are sypathetic to Damascus and Syrian interests. Consequently, international pressure on the Lebanese government and military officials to take action against groups like Hizballah that are operating in the country had little effect.

As of 2003 approximately 20,000 Syrian troops occupied the north of Lebanon above Tripoli, the Beqaa Valley north of the town of Rashayah, and the Beirut-Damascus highway. These numbers compare to 35,000 troops at the beginning of Syria's occupation. Between May 1988 and June 2001, Syrian forces occupied most of west Beirut. In October 1989, as part of the Taif agreements, Syria agreed to begin discussions on possible Syrian troop withdrawals from Beirut to the Beqaa Valley, two years after political reforms were implemented (then-Lebanese President Hirawi signed the reforms in September 1990), and to withdraw entirely from Lebanon after an Israeli withdrawal. While Israel has, according to the United Nations, complied with its obligations, the Syrian withdrawal discussions, which should have started in September 1992, had not begun as of early 2004.

Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who had resisted Syria's effort to secure Lahoud's extension, and 22 others were assassinated in Beirut by a car bomb on February 14, 2005. His death was the latest in a continuously growing string of assassinations and attempts since the October 1, 2004 attempt on then MP and resigned Economic Minister (now Telecom Minister) Marwan Hamadeh following his refusal to bow to Syrian pressure to sign the constitutional amendment to extend the mandate of former President Emile Lahoud. Since then, all of the attacks have targeted anti-Syrian politicians and journalists.

The assassination spurred massive protests in Beirut peaking on 14 March 2005 and international pressure that led to the withdrawal of the remaining Syrian military troops from Lebanon on 26 April 2005. In Lebanon’s March 2005 Cedar Revolution, the Lebanese people took to the streets en masse in a peaceful demonstration to demand a sovereign and democratic country, free from foreign interference, and to call for the truth behind the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In 2005, long before the inspiring and dramatic events of the Arab Spring, the people of Lebanon shattered the myth that the only way to produce change in the region is through violence and conflict.

Between 2000 and 2006, the Blue Line remained largely stable, with occasional exchanges of fire, until July 2006 when Hizballah launched a raid over the border to capture Israeli soldiers, sparking 34 days of intense conflict between Israel and Hizballah. On July 12, 2006 members of Hizballah infiltrated the Lebanese-Israeli border near Shtula, an Israeli farming village, and claimed responsibility for an ambush conducted on two Israeli Army Hummvees. The attack resulted in the capture of two Israeli soldiers and the deaths of three others. Five more Israeli soldiers were killed in the ensuing pursuit of Hizballah members into Lebanese territory. The combined capture of two soldiers and the deaths of 8 others; was considered the worst loss for Israeli military forces in more than four years. Hizballah also claimed responsibility for two separate Katyusha rocket attacks on Israeli towns resulting in the death of 1 civilian and the injury of 25 others.

The 12 July 2006 attack resulted in immediate retaliation by the Israeli military, which responded to the hostilities against their troops and citizens by bombing roads, bridges, and power plants inside Lebanon. The specific targeting of al-Manar, the Hizballah controlled television station, and the Lebanese international airport as well as the blockading of Lebanon's sea ports was an attempt to force the return of the captured Israeli troops and place greater pressure on Hizballah. These retaliatory actions by Israel resulted in the deaths of dozens of Lebanese civilians and threats of further rocket attacks by Hizballah. Additionally, on July 18, 2006 Israeli strikes killed 11 Lebanese soldiers, while Hezbollah rockets killed an Israeli in Nahariya. The 11 Lebanese soldiers were killed at a barracks east of Beirut. Since the cessation of hostilities established by UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and the deployment of a much larger UNIFIL presence in south Lebanon, the border has largely been calm. But the potential for escalation remains high.

On 07 May 2007, a terrorist organized called Fatah al-Islam attacked Lebanese security forces in the area of Tripoli outside the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp. This touched off a battle that lasted 3 months. Quite a number of Lebanese army soldiers were killed and wounded, as were many civilians. The refugee camp was nearly destroyed in the fighting, and nearly 30,000 refugees were displaced to a nearby area. In September 2007, after a long, difficult and courageous fight, the Government of Lebanon declared Fatah al-Islam defeated.

Following its historic deployment to southern Lebanon, in May-September 2007, the LAF battled Sunni extremist group Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli, winning a decisive victory, but destroying the camp and displacing approximately 30,000 Palestinian residents. The U.S. is the largest supporter of Nahr al-Bared relief and reconstruction, contributing a total of $91 million through FY 2010 toward UNRWA’s 4-year $328 million emergency appeal.

Inter communal clashes that erupted in May 2008 led to the Doha Agreement among rival political leaders. General Michel Sleiman, the Lebanese army commander, was elected as President on 25 May 2008, ending a seven-month vacuum in the presidency after the mandate of the former President, Emile Lahoud, expired on 23 November 2007. A National Unity Government was agreed on 11 July headed by PM Fouad Siniora. This Government received a vote of confidence by the Lebanese Parliament on 12 August 2008. President Sleiman reconvened the National Dialogue on 16 September 2008.

Political violence spiked in 2012, especially in the north. The massive car bomb explosion that killed Wissam al-Hassan, a senior official in Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, along with two others and wounded more than 100 bystanders on October 19, 2012 represented one of the largest and most deadly attacks against a public official since the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Sporadic clashes were witnessed across the country, but especially in Tripoli, where supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime sometimes employed heavy weaponry in upsurges of violence that have left at least 44 dead since March 2012.

Demonstrators in Tripoli protesting the controversial “Innocence of Muslims” video burned to the ground a co-located Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and Hardee’s restaurant on September 14, 2012. Lebanese security forces have repeatedly deployed to areas of violence to stop fighting, and provided additional security to American franchise restaurants in the weeks following the KFC/Hardee’s attack. The public feared, however, that as the crisis in Syria continued to worsen, it would further spill into neighboring Lebanon, and there were numerous instances of incursions by Syrian forces across the border into Lebanese territory (much of the border is not demarcated, contributing to further instability on the border).

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Page last modified: 21-02-2016 20:11:11 ZULU